Nymphadora was doing her victory dance around the flickering campfire. The combination of firelight and moonlight cast eerie shadows across her body. As she danced, she began to take off her clothes, one piece at a time, and to cast them aside into the darkness with wild abandon. Soon, she was dancing fully naked in the firelight.
Remus watched her with growing hunger. He began to pant with desire. A glow in the sky distracted him.
He pulled his eyes off of her mesmerizing figure to glance up at the full moon glowing in the dark sky. "Nooo!" he cried.
He felt his body stretching and contorting, his skin tearing free of his flesh, his face lengthening into a snout. Fully transformed, the wolf stalked forward, toward the naked woman dancing around the fire. The wolf smelled something sweet, like vanilla and spice. It wanted her.
The wolf stood only a few paces from her. She stopped dancing and stood still, looking the wolf in the eye, and trembling in the firelight. The wolf leapt. It knocked her to the ground and stood over her, growling. She looked up at it with eyes not full of fear—but of love. She smiled. The wolf leaned down and sank its teeth into her stomach. It began to feed upon her entrails. She cried out, moaning and gasping in pleasure.…
Remus woke with a start, covered with sweat. He was shaking, with the dark images of his dream still flashing in his mind. He hated the last few days of the lunar cycle. The wolf always became harder and harder to control as the full moon drew close. He had learned long ago to suppress the wolf during his waking hours, but he couldn't control its effect on his subconscious. He couldn't stop the dreams.
He stumbled to his feet and made his way to the tiny bathroom in his hotel room. He splashed his face with water and took a drink, but the images of Nymphadora's naked body, and the feelings of hunger and desire, would not go away. He glanced at the clock on the wall—it was just past five in the morning. He sighed. He might as well get his day started. It was a long journey home from Belgium to Cornwall, and he had to get there before moonrise.
He turned on the shower, making sure the water was icy cold, and stepped in.
He arrived at his house in Cornwall well before moonrise. He made his way down to his basement flat and flopped into his favorite armchair. It had been a very long day. International travel was exhausting.
He thought about napping a bit before the transformation, but shuddered at the thought of having another of those dreams. He had always had violent, primal dreams in the few days leading up to a transformation, but they had been getting worse the past few months. And for some reason, they always seemed to feature Nymphadora.
In fact, he realized, the dreams hadn't been this bad in more than eleven years. Not since he and Shari… He hadn't thought about Shari in close to a year. Not since her last Christmas card. He wondered when that had happened—when had he stopped thinking about her all the time? It must have happened at around the same time he discovered that Sirius was innocent and was still his friend.
He stood up and walked back to his bedroom. He opened the top drawer of his dresser and pulled out the small-framed Muggle photograph that sat in it. It was a picture of his younger self—before the lines and the grey. He was smiling broadly, and his arm was draped around the shoulders of a pretty young woman with dark brown hair and bright blue eyes. They both looked so happy. Shari. He didn't feel any of the twinges of pain or sorrow that he had accustomed himself to when he looked at her picture. Instead, all he felt was a little regret and a calm acceptance.
When did this happen? He wondered. When did I get over losing you? Unbidden, an image of a pixyish, round-cheeked face with bubble-gum pink hair rose in his mind. What did Nymphadora have to do with anything? He shook his head and put the photograph back in the drawer, closing it with bang.
He spent the time before moonrise eating a light supper and reading a novel. As the sun was setting, he heard a familiar knock on the door. He opened the door with a smile. "Hello, Toddy," he said to the scarred and grizzled wizard in rumpled robes that stood before him.
"'Lo, Lupin," Toddy grunted, stepping inside. Toddy Macnair had been the first tenant to move in when Remus had converted his parents' old house into flats ten years ago, and he had been the only tenant to stay for more than two years. Right now the top-floor flat was vacant.
"Are you ready?" Toddy asked in a gruff voice.
Remus nodded. "As ready as I ever am," he said.
"Well, lets get to it," said Toddy, brusque as ever.
Remus led the way back through his basement flat to the dark door in the rear. He opened the door and led the way down the five steps into the cramped, dark cellar. Most of the cellar was sectioned off by thick black iron bars, turning the back corner of the cellar into a cage. Remus pointed his wand at the bars and spoke, "Detorquo!" The bars bent and contorted to form an opening large enough for him to step through. He placed his wand carefully on the tiny table standing next to the stairs, outside of the cage. He slowly removed his clothes, folding them neatly and stacking them tidily on the table. Once he was nude, shivering in the cold, he stepped through the gap in the bars.
He looked back at Toddy, and gave him a sharp nod. Toddy nodded back, pointed his own wand, and said, "Correctio!" The bars straightened with a clang, shutting Remus firmly inside.
"Will you need a feeding tonight?" asked Toddy, gruffly.
Remus shook his head. "I ate less than an hour ago. I should be all right."
Toddy nodded. "I'll see you in the morning, then."
Remus nodded back. "See you tomorrow."
Toddy stomped back up the cellar stairs, and closed and locked the dingy door behind him.
Remus turned, in a long-ingrained act of habit, and sat in a depression on the damp earth floor, facing the single slit of a window near the cellar ceiling. He watched as the darkness outside grew deeper. He waited. At last, a shaft of pale light pierced the darkness of the cellar, lighting a narrow patch of the floor. It was time.
He groaned and clenched his teeth as the pain began.
Sunlight was filtering down through the tiny window. With a final heaving groan, he fell back to the ground, once more wearing his human body. He rolled onto his side, trembling with the memory of recent pain and exhaustion. With a sigh, he fell into a troubled slumber with hazy memories of his wolf-life still dancing in his mind.
The sunlight had grown stronger when he was roused by the sound of the cellar door opening. He continued to lie still, listening to the sound of footsteps coming down the stairs. But the tread didn't sound right. It wasn't Toddy's usual clomping. Instead, it was a lighter, more tentative step. His nostrils suddenly prickled with a familiar scent—of vanilla and spice. It couldn't be…
"Detorquo!" came the warm, feminine voice.
Remus quickly curled up, striving to hide his nakedness. "Nymphadora?" he said in astonishment.
A warm wool blanket dropped over him as he looked up to see her smiling face. "Wotcher, Remus!" she said cheerily. "Don't worry," she added with a wink, "I didn't see a thing."
He seriously doubted her veracity on that point and hastily drew the blanket around himself. "What are you doing here?" he asked, groaning a little as he raised himself to a sitting position.
"Are you all right?" she asked, kneeling beside him and putting a hand on his shoulder. "No serious injuries, I hope?"
He shook his head slowly. "Nothing but the usual scrapes and bruises. The worst part is the muscle aches, and the exhaustion. Humans just aren't meant to transform that way."
"Well, I'm glad to hear there's no serious harm done," she said. "As to why I came—I thought I'd better make sure that you'd be well enough for Sirius' birthday surprise tomorrow. I just don't trust that nutter upstairs to take proper care of you."
"He does just fine," muttered Remus, his surprise wearing off and the exhaustion taking back over.
Nymphadora huffed. "Oh, really? So what does he do—give you a blanket and a relaxation tonic and leave you here in the dirt to sleep it off?"
Remus coughed uncomfortably. "That pretty much sums it up, yes."
"Well, no wonder it takes you two days to recover from a transformation. If you had some proper looking after, you would be fine in less than a day," she said. "You'll see—I'll have you back to normal by tomorrow morning at the latest."
Remus smiled wanly. "I appreciate the thought, Nymphadora, but I'm not sure how much you can really do."
She grinned at him. "Just you wait—I come bearing potent remedies to what ails you; compliments of the finest Apothecary in Liverpool."
"If I recall, your father is the only Apothecary in Liverpool," replied Remus.
"That doesn't mean he's not good at his job," countered Nymphadora. "Now, can you stand, or shall I conjure you a stretcher?"
"No. No stretcher. I can manage.” He grimaced, trying to shift his weight.
"Let me help you."
As he strove to raise himself, he found that he was too tired to refuse her assistance. With considerable support from Nymphadora, Remus was able to hobble his way up the stairs, down the hall, and into his bedroom. He was fairly certain that he managed to keep himself properly covered with the blanket but felt himself blushing nonetheless. He flopped down onto his bed with a sigh of relief and drew the covers up over his shivering body. With a bit of surprise, he noticed several scented candles burning on his dresser. He inhaled their sweet scent, and felt a sense of peace and lightness descending over him.
"Do you like them?" asked Nymphadora. "Dad usually sells them to people suffering from workplace stress, but I thought they might work for you, as well. The scent is supposed to lighten burdens and ease distress."
Remus breathed in deeply again, feeling better by the moment. "They're very nice—thank you," he said.
"And that's not all," she said. "Relax a bit while I get you the special tea I've got brewing." She bustled out of the room, and he settled down against his pillows. He mentally reminded himself to buy some of those candles for himself—they were working wonders.
Nymphadora bustled back in with a mug of lovely smelling herbal tea. "Here you are," she said, and he propped himself up on his pillows. "It's a relaxation tonic with a pain reliever added—and it tastes good, too. Dad always prides himself on making the best-tasting potions in England," she said. He took the mug with a word of thanks and sipped its aromatic contents. Immediately the pain of his bruises began to ease, and a delicious sense of relaxation trickled down through his body. He took a few more sips, smiling.
"These remedies of your father's are amazing!" he said, taking another sip. "I haven't felt this good the morning after a transformation since…since I don't know when!"
She patted him gently on the shoulder. "Like I said—all you need is some proper looking-after."
He smiled up at her with gratitude. Their eyes locked and held for a few moments. A strange expression flickered across her face—as if she wanted to say something but was holding back. Then, she looked away. "I hope you don't mind me intruding like this," she said quietly.
Remus thought for a moment, and then answered, "If you'd asked me yesterday, I would have told you to stay away. But now that you're here—I'm glad you came. I didn't think I would be, but I am. Thank you."
She looked at him, once more with that strange expression on her face. "I'll have to be going soon," she said. "Work starts in half an hour."
"It's all right. I can manage things from here. You've already done wonders."
Her face brightened, the twinkle coming back to her eye. "But I'm not done yet," she said. "Drink up your tea and then take a bit of a nap. When you wake up, you'll find a packet of powder in your bathroom. Draw yourself a warm bath and add the powder. It's the most amazing remedy for muscle aches that I've ever tried—really. And I've put a packed lunch in your fridge, so you can eat as soon as you're hungry. Plus, I'll be back with something hot for dinner."
Remus shook his head. "You really didn't have to do all this, Nymphadora."
She smiled at him. "I know." She gave his shoulder a little squeeze, and stood to leave. "I'll see you at around six forty-five. Take care of yourself—and do try that bath powder. It really is the most amazing stuff."
"I will," he said with a smile. "Your father really knows his remedies."
She paused for a moment, then leaned over him and planted a soft quick kiss on his forehead. "You sleep well," she said with a smile. "I'll see you tonight." She turned and left.
Remus stared at the door where she had exited for a long time, the warmth of kiss still burning on his head. What was happening to him? Nymphadora was just a friend—wasn't she?
As Remus drank his tea, he mused over whether or not it would be in her character to give that sort of kiss to someone she thought of as 'just-a-friend'. As soon as he was done with the tea, he fell into a deep, dream-filled sleep, where Nymphadora danced once more.
Nymphadora was right—the bath powder was amazing. After a long soak in the treated bathwater, he felt almost normal again. He ate the lunch she had left for him and even had the energy to do some chores around the flat. He really had neglected the place the last few months—plus, he needed to do something to distract himself from mentally replaying the images from his dreams.
He felt sleepy again in the late afternoon and lay down on his sofa for another nap. He was still sleeping when the door swung open, admitting Nymphadora and the several packages of food that she was carrying. "Wotcher, Remus!" she cried happily.
He stretched, and sat up. "Good Lord!" he exclaimed, "You didn't cook, did you?"
She laughed. "Great Merlin, no! I got Molly to cook for us—she's still not used to cooking for just two, so she was happy to provide."
She toted her packages into the kitchen and started laying out the meal on the table. He stood and followed her in. The meal appeared to be a hearty affair of roast beef, potatoes, vegetables, and hot bread.
"I see you're feeling better," she said as she pulled out some plates and utensils.
He nodded. "I feel fantastic."
She smiled at him as they both sat down. "Hate to say I told you so, but …"
He laughed. "But you were abso-bloody-lutely right?"
"Couldn't have put it better myself," she said with a grin. "Now, eat up—there's enough here for a small army."
Once he got over the slight embarrassment that he felt on account of his recent dreams, Remus enjoyed the meal immensely. The food was delicious and the company was even better. Nymphadora regaled him with a tale of a recent adventure at work, in which she had been tailing someone she believed to be a murderous vampire. In the end, she discovered that the vampire in question had traded cloaks with a passerby, and she had been following a poor Polish tourist around the Wizarding haunts of London for half the night while one of her fellow Aurors had captured the vampire hours earlier. "So once again, I have heroically distinguished myself in the line of duty," she said with a laugh.
"Well, all's well that ends well," said Remus. "Besides—you've been the hero often enough, haven't you?"
She nodded sheepishly. "I have had my fair share of collars," she admitted. "And speaking of All's Well that Ends Well, which play shall we tackle next? Merchant of Venice? Or maybe The Comedy of Errors?"
"I was thinking about The Taming of the Shrew," he said.
"Oooh—good choice!" she replied. "I've always thought Sirius would make a perfect Petruccio."
Remus nodded. "That was my thought as well. Perhaps we could take turns reading Petruccio in our best imitations of Sirius and see if he catches on."
Nymphadora grinned at him. "Brilliant, when shall we start? Monday?"
"Monday should work for me," he replied.
"Then it's a date. Fantastic."
Remus eyed her for a moment before asking, "So… tomorrow night … what should I expect?"
She gave him a wicked little grin, and said, "Expect all your worst nightmares to come true."
He raised one eyebrow. "So I'll transform again and rip apart a room full of innocent children?"
She sighed and rolled her eyes. "So, your second worst nightmares then."
"Hmmmm…And I absolutely have to be a part of this?"
She glared at him. "Yes. I'm not letting out of this. Besides—you'll have fun."
"Are you sure of that?"
"Yes, positive. You'll be horrified at first, but once you get over the horror, you'll have a magnificent time. I guarantee it."
Remus couldn't get anything more out of her on the subject. Soon after, she headed home, claiming that she had some last-minute details for the birthday surprise to work on. She did not repeat her goodbye kiss, and Remus wasn't sure whether to be relieved or disappointed, and so somehow managed to be both at the same time.
Remus headed back to Grimmauld Place the next morning. Sirius didn't ask him about the transformation, and Remus didn't feel like sharing. He felt like keeping Nymphadora's surprise visit a secret—at least for now.
They spent the day catching up on the events of the last week and taking care of the mountain of chores that Sirius had neglected in Remus' absence. Remus was very careful not to mention anything about Bill and Nymphadora's planned surprise for that night—he didn't want their efforts to go to waste.
That evening, as the two old friends were relaxing in the parlor, the front door burst open noisily. Old Mrs. Black started up her usual caterwauling, and Remus heard Bill curse loudly at the painting. It must be surprise time, Remus thought to himself. Bill and Nymphadora quieted the painting and then strolled into the room, carrying a few lumpy bags.
What struck Remus first was the extraordinary way the two of them were dressed. Bill wore a pair of baggy blue-jeans, artfully shredded at the knees, and a baggy black t-shirt with a picture of a disembodied eyeball floating on the front, complete with a bloody optic nerve trailing off into the distance behind it. The picture of the eye had been charmed, and it kept swiveling to look around the room. It was very disconcerting.
Nymphadora was wearing tight-fitting trousers in a shimmering, reflective, midnight-blue fabric and a form-fitting, silky black tank top, covered with a jacket made out of see-through pink vinyl. Her hair was short and spiky in dark blue to match her pants. For some reason the sight of her in that outfit sent a strange jolt of excitement surging through his body. Get over it Remus—you're only friends, he reminded himself. And anyway, someone as young and vibrant as Nymphadora would never be interested in a stodgy old bookworm—would she?
Once he got past his initial shock of seeing them in such unusual attire, he began to get a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. Mischief was clearly afoot. And the wide, conspiratorial grins on their faces made him wonder what Nymphadora had really meant when she had told him to expect his worst nightmares to come true.
Sirius also knew mischief when he saw it, and he was grinning at the pair with a wicked gleam in his eye. "So—are you going to let me in on the fun? Or are you going to keep me in suspense all night?"
"We understand you have a birthday coming up, Sirius," said Bill.
Sirius' grin got even wider. "I do."
Nymphadora stepped forward. "We thought we'd celebrate a few days early. Surprise!" She handed him a small envelope.
He took it eagerly, ripping it open with relish. He reached inside, and pulled out five small rectangular cards and stared at them wide-eyed. "Tickets to a Weird Sisters concert? Tonight?"
Remus frowned. A concert? What in the world are they thinking? "I'm sure Sirius appreciates the gesture, but how do you expect him to attend a public concert without being captured?" he asked, knowing he wouldn't like the answer.
"With this," said Bill, handing Sirius a silver pocket-flask.
"What is it?" asked Sirius.
Bill and Nymphadora looked at each other with that same conspiratorial smile, then turned back to Sirius and said together, "Polyjuice Potion!"
Remus was right. He didn't like the answer one bit.
A/N: Thanks again for reading and reviewing! And thanks as ever to my wonderful betas, Chary and Sparkly_Stuff. I’ll try to update more often in the future.